Pioneer Valley Fern Society

Celebrating the Winter Solstice

Start of the Winter Ferns series 2023-2024 #1

Today we celebrate the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and the start of winter. Even though it does not look like our usual winter outside yet, the cold has come. Time to start the winter fern series again!

I decided to start with this photo of the Climbing Fern (Lygodium palmatum) because it shows the winter sunlight on the pretty leaflets, and no snow. This was taken last week. In this photo you can see the sterile leaflets (the larger ones on the left side), and some of the fertile ones (much smaller but the same shape) on the right side. The sterile leaflets are considered evergreen. This fern is not common, but when you find it, it is usually growing in a mass, climbing up and over surrounding shrubs. It generally seems to do well in sunny, wet and acidic conditions. An interesting fact is that what you see are actually all leaflets (or pinnae) along a viney rachis. The actual frond can be up to 15 feet long, according to GoBotany.

It is also called "Hartford Fern" because this lovely fern was the first in the U.S to be protected by law, prohibiting its use for decorative purposes in Connecticut in 1869. Unfortunately, it is now considered uncommon in MA & CT, and rare in RI, extremely rare in NH and endangered in VT (GoBotany). The range map (BONAP), shows it from New Hampshire west to Michigan and south to LA and to the east coast, except for FL.

As I was looking in various fern guides for interesting facts, I noticed that three older books (Cobb, Field Guide to the Ferns,1963; Wherry, Guide to Eastern Ferns,1948; Small, Ferns of the Vicinity of New York,1935), all show a small detail of a fiddlehead coming off the root. I have been trying to find, identify and photograph fiddleheads of all our native ferns in the area, but I have not looked for this one yet! It will probably be difficult, since the growth on and above ground can be pretty thick and the conditions wet, but a new challenge for the new year!

Hope you all have a good winter. The good news is that now we will have a little more daylight each day!